The AL’s secret to dominance over the NL in the ASG? Ichiro’s profanity-laced pregame speeches.

With their 4-3 win over the National League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, the American League has now beaten their counterpart 13-straight times in the Midsummer Classic.

While some are quick to suggest that the AL might have more overall talent than the NL and that’s why it has had so much success in the ASG over the years, apparently the real reason for the AL’s dominance can be linked to the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and his profanity-laced pregame speeches.

The tradition began in 2001, Ichiro’s first All-Star appearance, and the AL hasn’t lost a game since. Coincidence?

Um. No.

“I know how important it is to the game,” Ichiro said. “I’m more concentrated at that moment than I am in the game.”

A wide grin spread across his face. Ichiro’s secret had been exposed, so, hey, why not have fun with it?

The exact words are not available. Players are too busy laughing to remember them. Ichiro wouldn’t dare repeat them in public. So here’s the best facsimile possible.

“Bleep … bleep bleep bleep … National League … bleep … bleep … bleeeeeeeeep … National – bleep bleep bleepbleepbleep!”

“If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely something pretty funny,” Morneau said. “It’s hard to explain, the effect it has on everyone. It’s such a tense environment. Everyone’s a little nervous for the game, and then he comes out. He doesn’t say a whole lot the whole time he’s in there, and all of a sudden, the manager gets done with his speech, and he pops off.”

And onto the field they go, enemies during the regular season, friends because together they just saw a 5-foot-9, 160-pound man from Japan, a national icon who surely could win office there, create beef where there wasn’t any.

I’ve obviously never seen Ichiro’s pregame speech, but if it’s anything like Isuro “Kamikaze” Tanka’s inspirational pregame speech to the Tribe in “Major League II,” I can see why the AL has dominated the NL for over a decade.

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American League All-Star voting–who is leading and who should be

It’s always funny how the voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star game shakes out, and it’s generally more of a popularity contest than anything. That, or the more familiar names like Derek Jeter, David Wright and Manny Ramirez always generate lots of attention. Well, since we’re about 75 games in, and the mid-summer classic is two and a half weeks away, I decided to look at the current vote leaders and make my own picks of who I think should be in there. First the American League — and next week, the National. Here we go….

First base
Leader: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Mike’s pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins. It’s kind of hard to argue with Teixeira’s numbers, short porch in right or not. He’s got 20 homers, 57 RBI, 20 doubles, and a .280 average (and in the field, zero errors). You can make a case for Carlos Pena (22 homers), but he’s batting .236. Morneau is batting .315, and has 16 homers (let’s say he’d have 20 if he played in Yankee Stadium), and more RBI than Teixeira (58). And he’s only made one error.

Second base
Leader: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Mike’s pick: Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays. I love a good comeback story, and this is it. Hill doesn’t have as many homers as Kinsler (17 to Kinsler’s 18), but he is hitting for a higher average (.306 to .268) with more RBI (52 to 49). Sure, Kinsler has 16 steals to 2 for Hill, but I’m sticking with my comeback story.

Shortstop
Leader: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Mike’s pick: Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter’s having a good season, but Bartlett is leading the American League in batting with a sick .363 average. Even after spending some time on the DL, Bartlett still has 7 homers, 35 RBI, 13 doubles, 3 triples and 15 steals…..pretty awesome numbers for a shortstop.

Third base
Leader: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Mike’s pick: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. With a nod to Chone Figgins and his .325 average with 23 stolen bases, Longoria has delivered at a power position with 16 home runs, 62 RBI, 24 doubles and a .312 batting average.

Catcher:
Leader: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Mike’s pick: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins. Hey, these voters aren’t doing a bad job after all! This is an easy one, though. Mauer is batting almost .400 (.396) with 14 homers and 43 RBI, and a staggering .695 slugging percentage that leads the American League.

Outfield
Leaders: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

Mike’s picks: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox—It’s hard to argue with 19 homers, 69 driven in (leads the AL) and a respectable .278 average, especially when Big Papi has struggled. Manny who?
Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels—He’s currently fourth in the voting, but he should be higher. 17 dingers, 56 RBI, and he’s batting .309 with 12 stolen bases.
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays—The Rays are running on everyone, and this guy leads them and the world with 38 stolen bases. He’s also batting .314 with 6 homers and 35 RBI.

Starting pitcher
As you all know, pitchers are chosen by the managers and announced shortly before the all-star break.
Mike’s pick: Zach Greinke, Kansas City Royals. The guy got off to a blistering start, when the Royals stunned everyone by spending more than a few days in first place. He’s cooled off, but Greinke is still 9-3 on a team that’s 31-41, he has a stellar 1.90 ERA, and he’s second in the AL with 111 strikeouts to just 18 walks in 109 innings.

Relief pitcher
Mike’s pick: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox. Okay, so he’s not leading the league in saves (he has 17 and the Angels’ Brian Fuentes has 20). But Papelbon sports a 1.97 ERA and 33 K’s in 32 innings. And he just has that sick “you can’t hit me” demeanor.

Source: Baseball Reference

Top 10 MLB active free passes

There are some batters that no pitcher wants to face, especially in a crucial situation with runners on base, or with first base open. But some guys are intentionally walked with regularity, and in some cases, even with the bases loaded to give up one run instead of four. Here is the current Top 10 among active players in intentional walks. Pitchers, proceed at your own risk…..

1. Ken Griffey, Seattle Mariners (244)—Of course this guy has always been a feared slugger, but he had a career high 25 intentionals in 1993, and the year he slugged 56 homers with 147 RBI on his way to winning the AL MVP (1997), Griffey was intentionally walked 23 times. Yikes. But before we get all excited about that, consider that Barry Bonds was given the free pass 120 times in 2004, a league record that surely will never be broken.

2. Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels (240)—He’s topped 20 seven times and 30 once. Is he that feared or are pitchers tired of looking at that crap on Vlad’s helmet?

3. Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers (199)—‘Roids, no ‘roids, hormones, no hormones, whatever. This is the one guy in baseball I am never pitching to if I don’t have to.

4. Carlos Delgado, New York Mets (186)—As a Mets fan, I’m just glad my team doesn’t have to face this guy. There is always the potential to hit one 600 feet the opposite way.

5. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies (172)—You don’t give a guy like Helton anything to hit, not with a .329 lifetime batting average, as well as an average of 30 homers and 109 RBI per season.

6. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (160)—Oh yeah, screw what I said about Manny. I forgot about Albert. He’s only 29 years old and should easily hit 700 homers or more. THIS is the guy I don’t ever pitch to if it’s not necessary.

7. Jim Thome, Chicago White Sox (159)—It’s interesting to note that in the ‘90’s Thome and Ramirez typically had single digits in free passes. That’s because if you put them on, you still had to face Albert Belle or Eddie Murray.

8. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves (143)—It’s kind of funny that Chipper’s intentional walks are declining as he’s becoming a better and better hitter.

9. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (129)—This one baffles me. Why put a guy on who averages 40 steals per season?

10. Gary Sheffield, New York Mets (128)—A nice, long career, and sheer intimidation at the plate, even today at age 40.

Source: Baseball Reference

Top 10 Active MLB Triples Leaders

To hit home runs and doubles usually requires power, but to hit triples requires a bit of power and a lot of speed. Or sometimes, luck, such as when an outfielder misjudges a ball and lets an otherwise slow runner reach third. But the leaders in MLB in this category are seasoned speedsters, and have mostly done it for several years. Here is the active Top 10 in triples, including only players on active rosters in 2009:

1. Johnny Damon, New York Yankees (93)—At age 35 and having battled injuries throughout his career, Damon has lost a step or two. But between 1998 and 2002, this sparkplug reached double digits in triples three times.

2. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies (90)—Rollins is the heart and soul of the Phillies, and is one of the reasons they won a title in 2008. He’s only 30, but has reached double figures in triples five times, including a career high 20 in 2007.

3. Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays (85)—Crawford is a game-changer, and in his still young career has averaged 15 triples and 53 stolen bases per season.

4. Cristian Guzman, Washington Nationals (78)—Still a very good hitter, but Guzman isn’t the triples or stolen base threat he was in his earlier days with Minnesota. His career high, like Rollins, was also 20 triples, set in 2000 with the Twins.

5. Jose Reyes, New York Mets (73)—Arguably one of the two or three fastest players in the game, Jose has averaged 16 triples and 65 steals over the last four seasons. So how in the world do the Mets not score more runs?

6. Omar Vizquel, Texas Rangers (72)—This one is more about longevity, but Omar did have a career best 10 triples with the Giants in 2006, at the ripe old baseball age of 39.

7. Juan Pierre, Los Angeles Dodgers (71)—Ol’ Juan has slowed down just a bit too, but he’s hit double digits in triples four times during his career, including three straight times from 2004-2006.

8. Carlos Beltran, New York Mets (64)—Does anyone remember that Carlos Beltran played seven seasons in Kansas City? I mean, did he really?

8. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (64)—Ichiro bats for average and steals more bases than he does hit extra base hits. But he’s averaged 8 triples per season during his American big league career.

10. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees (57)—Jeter is just a true professional and great baseball player, but his career high in triples, 9, came ten seasons ago.

Source: Baseball Reference

Top 10 MLB Active Stolen Base Leaders

The baseball season, and more importantly to some of you, the fantasy baseball season, is underway. Some fantasy GM’s, myself included, usually stock up on home run hitters and focus less on stolen bases. It’s a matter of taste and a matter of how your league keeps score. But some speedsters can be difference-makers, and here is a list of the active Top 10 in stolen bases to date, excluding those who are technically active but not currently on a major league roster:

1. Juan Pierre, Los Angeles Dodgers (429)—I had to do a double take. Juan Pierre, still playing? Why yes, he’s only 30 years old, and he had 40 stolen bases for the Dodgers last season. He could easily reach 500 by late next season, putting him in the career company of Luis Aparicio and Paul Molitor, among others.

2. Omar Vizquel, Texas Rangers (385)—He’s 42 and a backup now, but how about Omar’s ’99 season in Cleveland when he hit .333 with 42 steals? The fact that Omar finished 16th in the MVP voting that season says more about the steroid era than it does about his season. Today he’d probably finish in the top 5 with those numbers.

3. Johnny Damon, New York Yankees (363)—It’s hard to believe Johnny Damon has been in the league since 1995, but he has, and he’s been a pesky leadoff hitter the entire time, averaging an impressive 30 steals per season.

4. Luis Castillo, New York Mets (342)—He’s not the speedster he once was, but Castillo stole a modest 17 bases last year while not at 100%, and he’s still only 33 years young.

5. Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles Angels (318)—Bobby has that rare combination of speed, power and the ability to hit for average. It’s amazing he was on the free agent market this past winter for as long as he was.

6. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (315)—The amazing thing about Ichiro is that he’s only entering his ninth season in the American major leagues. Once he returns from the DL from a stomach ulcer, he’s going to keep adding to this total, probably for several years.

7. Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays (302)—One of the game’s most exciting young players, and he’s only 27 years old.

8. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies (295)—Rollins is another guy who does it all, including hit for power and play the field like a wizard. A legitimate MVP candidate year after year, and a big reason the Phils won it all in 2008.

9 (tie). Mike Cameron, Milwaukee Brewers (291)—If Cameron had a higher career batting average than his .250 mark, he’d no doubt have more steals by now as well. But .291 is still pretty impressive for any player.

9 (tie). Jose Reyes, New York Mets (291)—One of the cornerstones of the Mets’ franchise and a guy that has contended for the stolen base title every season of his career. Reyes is only 26 years old, and AVERAGING 62 steals per season. That’s just mind-boggling.

Source: Baseball Reference

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